As long as the US military is treated ‘above the law’ by the government, their victims among the civilian populace will not be given justice.” – Bayan Muna-Southern Mindanao
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
In Zamboanga City, the progressive party-list Bayan Muna is calling for an independent inquiry into the death of a local fisherman killed by a speeding Boat manned by military forces of the United States. The group said the death of 56-year old Ahbam Juhurin, a local fisherman from Basilan should not be allowed to be swept under the rug.
Based on various media reports, US and Filipino troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) were conducting maritime exercises in Baluk-baluk, an island near Hadji Muhtamad Municipality in Basilan Province on April 19. A Mark V Special Operations Craft was returning to Zamboanga City when it rammed Juhurin’s fishing boat around 7 p.m. that same day. The elderly fisherman was killed while his 26-year old son remains in critical condition as of this writing. Colonel Ricardo Visaya, commander of the 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan said it was an accident and that no one is to blame.
VFA protects US troops from criminal prosecution
Ariel Casilao, Southern Mindanao Regional Coordinator of Bayan Muna, said it has only been days since the US – Philippine Balikatan Exercises formally started, but already a civilian has been killed. He said the blame should be placed at the door of the Aquino government and the militarist proponents of the Visiting forces Agreement (VFA).
“The US troops have immunity against prosecution from Philippine laws because of the VFA. They have committed heinous crimes against Filipinos and the Bangsamoro, but remain above prosecution. As long as the US military is treated ‘above the law’ by the government, their victims among the civilian populace will not be given justice,” he said.
Casilao also brought attention to the case involving the death of translator Gregan Cardeno at the hands of US troops. “Not even officials of the Commission on Human Rights were allowed to inspect the US military base in Marawi,” he said.
Bayan Muna has been pushing for the abrogation of the VFA which was based on the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951. In the last week, more than 3,000 members of patriotic and cause-oriented people’s organizations from various provinces in Mindanao have participated in a massive protest march demanding the the scrapping of VFA. The more than 500 kilometer lakbayan ended in Ipil, Zamboanga on April 20 where the protestors burned a US flag.
For their part, the youth group Anakbayan joined a Metro Manila-wide noise barrage to demand justice for the killed fisherman and his injured son. The group said it is an outrage that no charges have been filed against the US servicemen who manned the vessel that hit Juhurin’s boat.
“Pacts between the Philippine and the US such as the VFA have killed Filipinos like Juhurin and damaged the lives of others who fell victim to abuses by US troops in the Philippines, said Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo.
A threat to the peace process
In a related development, a peace group said the impending US-Philippine negotiations for military basing deal poses threats to the peace process.
In a statement, the Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao said the 28th US-Philippine military war games and the inking of a new deal on US military “basing” in the Philippines may further drive a wedge between the two panels representing the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in the peace negotiations.
“The GPH-NDFP talks is anchored on the principle of national sovereignty, as agreed by both parties in The Hague Joint Declaration of 1992,” Bishop Felixberto Calang, chairperson of the group, said.
Calang recounted that the NDFP had previously suspended talks because of two issues concerning national sovereignty – US terrorist-tagging and the VFA. He explained that the Oslo Joint Agreement of February 2011 which paved the way for the resumption of the talks committed the Aquino government, among others, to seek means to delist the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) from the US terror list.
“The spirit of the Oslo agreement which led to the resumption of the talks is that the Aquino government should be recognizing the importance of national sovereignty as a principle in the peace process,” he said.“We were hopeful that the Aquino government resumed talks on an optimistic note, supposedly a welcome departure from the hawkish stance of the Arroyo regime, but the Aquino administration appears to be a more docile puppy to United States interests than its predecessor.”
The bishop said a new US-Philippine military deal will again be a big obstacle in the talks, arguing that the forging of such a deal is a clear case of interference in internal affairs.
“It will undermine the essence of the 1992 Philippine Senate decision to oust the US bases,” he said.
Last year, Bishop Calang spoke with both GPH peace panel chair Alex Padilla and NDFP peace panel chair Luis Jalandoni to state the group’s support to the sustained negotiations. In March this year, he joined an ecumenical lobby group in Washington DC, USA to press for a cut in US military aid because of the extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. He also expressed Mindanao’s opposition to the upcoming US-PH war games before US NGOs and public officials.